I spent the last two and a half days in the sweltering heat at Princeton University / Seminary at the Envision 08 conference. This conference was described on their website as:

“Envision ‘08 is about the power of the gospel to transform the public square. It’s about Jesus and justice, evangelical history and heritage, and practiced theology. It’s about the next one hundred years of the church and its impact on the common good.”

I was pleasantly surprised at the conference. There was such a wide range of speakers and views shared but they were (relatively) hopeful and spent a lot of time trying to imagine a better future. I have been to enough conferences where there was simply deconstruction and this was refreshing.

I was also nervous that this would be an anti-evangelical, hate-fest on conservatives. And, while there was some strong critique of American evangelicalism, it wasn’t done in the tone that i expected. In fact, some of the most harsh critique was done by evangelicals themselves.

Basically, the sense of the conference that I got was that we need Christians who live out and lead the Church and our congregations in caring about the issues that Jesus cares about and that a fully formed gospel should naturally address. Things like poverty, the poor, the environment, injustice, discrimination, oppression, torture and the like.

Here are some random thoughts/quotes from the conference that I noted as significant or at least interesting.  I’ll try to note who said these things but don’t hold them to it as my notes are rather sloppy!

  • People don’t generally do more in the world unless they are disturbed (Richard Cizik)
  • A great exposition of Acts 6 on how we need to empower people and trust the Spirit to work in and through them. (Jeannette Yep)
  • A great look at Luke 7.  People ask Jesus if he is the one they have been waiting for. He responds by saying tell John the Baptist what you have seen.  Would people know that we represent Jesus by the things that we do and the lives that we live?   This question cuts right to the heart… (Shane Claiborne)
  • The hope of the world does not lie in one politician or one day every four years in November.  It lies in Jesus and our being a proper representation of him here on earth. (Shane Claiborne)
  • Question:  Are we ready to take the responsibility that all our political ideas demand of us? (Shane Claiborne)
  • “We can’t wait for Washington to do what the Church should be doing”. (Shane Claiborne)
  • “Dispensationalism has led to a total disengagement with public life and they (dispensatioalists) do get there they don’t have a theology to tell them what to do.”  This is the world that I grew up and and I found this a very good critique.  I’ve been in the process of relearning theology so that I have a means of thinking about God and faith and action that fits with this new worldview. (Vincent Bacote)
  • “Both sides of the abortion issue agree that making abortion illegal will not reduce the number of abortions.” This was not an argument for why it shouldn’t be made illegal, but it was rather a way to state that the issue goes much deeper than simply regulating abortion by laws.
  • “We won’t do theology right if we don’t do it while we are actively relating to the poor.” (Bart Campolo)
  • “I’m not convinced that many of our theologies would withstand relationships with poor people.” (Bart Campolo)
  • Relating to the poor is kind of like a Pepsi taste test.  It always beats Coke because it tastes really sweet at first.  But, it always looses when the taste test involves the whole can.  Basically, the point is that a quick experience with the poor is usually sweet but sitting with them day in and day out is hard and exhausting and not really that “sweet.” (Bart Campolo)

The best one-liner of the conference came from Claude Nikondeha who is the director of Amahoro.  I have heard great things about this man and we tried to connect this week but it didn’t work out.  But, he made a statement that will stick with me for quite some time.  He used the word, “Ubuntu” which means:

“I am who I am because you are who you are.”

This statement cut straight to my heart.  I’ll likely blog about this more so I am not going to get too deeply into it here but let that thought roll around in your head for a while.  Heck, you could turn it around and say, “You are who you are because I am who I am.”  The thing that I love about it is that it speaks right in the face of individualism and calls you into community, worldwide community. This is a great word, especially as I leave for Zambia this weekend.

All in all, I was pleased with the conference this week.  I loved the diversity of the views and beliefs, even a few wacky ones.  It’s great to stretch my mind like this and get me thinking and rethinking about things I hold dear.